He is the architect who demolished caste politics with his meticulous planning in Uttar Pradesh. Amit Shah, Narendra Modi’s top aide, speaks with Yojna Gusai about how he crafted an unprecedented victory in very difficult political terrain.
The Bharatiya Janata Party has done exceptionally well in Uttar Pradesh. But your party’s graph was at an all-time low in this politically crucial state till you were given the task to revive the party and its prospects. Your comment.
I admit, our organisation was not very strong in Uttar Pradesh and this was affecting our performance. About 42 per cent of votes were affiliated to one party or the other. For us it was the remaining 58 per cent of votes that we had to target. It was a tough fight.
Our voting pattern and votebank was on a decline since 1998. For any BJP candidate, it was actually a four cornered fight in Uttar Pradesh. But all credit goes to our workers who worked tirelessly and inexhaustibly, in fact crossed all limits to make sure that our performance improves.
People say that your mass contact programme was the most effective amongst all the campaign related activities that the country has seen in recent times. Could you elaborate?
While the door-to-door campaign was already on, we made sure that each and every person and every household in each and every village, town and city gets our party and Narendra Modi’s message. Around 33 per cent of the state is a dark area, in the sense that there are no newspapers, no TV, nothing.
There were 450 video raths (vans) going around the state, which reached almost every village twice during the entire campaigning season. These raths had GPS system and every information, every feedback they used to collect used to come on my mobile phone every day. It was a high-tech campaign. We managed to spread Modiji’s message, speeches and campaign material to each and everyone. We also prepared a list of BJP sympathisers in individual areas. I would also like to say that this also helped us in breaking the caste barrier.
But in Uttar Pradesh, caste politics plays an important role. How did you negotiate that?
In Uttar Pradesh, caste politics is deep-rooted. But there is a negative side of it. When something is deep-rooted, it takes time for people to realise its ill effects, that’s natural. When a political culture takes shape, it takes time for it to fail.
But I think Uttar Pradesh electorate was fed up of this caste-based politics as the state has hardly seen any development, law and order situation has deteriorated, investment, employment, women’s safety, rural and agriculture development, these areas hardly saw any development.
Therefore, an environment against caste-based politics was created and the BJP wave along with Mr Modi’s candidature as the prime ministerial candidate helped in creating a favourable environment for the BJP and making our foundation strong. It helped in creating votes for us and our political strategy helped in converting these votes into parliamentary seats.
So does this mean that the exercise in Uttar Pradesh was also to keep the party prepared for the 2017 Assembly elections.
This exercise was undertaken with an eye on the long-term gain and for strengthening the party’s organisational structure. We have set up booth-level committees in almost 76 per cent of the state.
We have a data bank of each and every party worker till the booth level, his photograph, profession, address, contact numbers, email, IDs, everything. This information is available from the district level to regional level to state level. We have a permanent structure which helped us in strengthening the organisation.
Questions were asked about Mr Modi contesting from two parliamentary constituencies. What was the reason behind picking Varanasi?
There were two reasons. First, he should contest from a seat outside Gujarat and then to benefit the Hindi belt. Contesting from Varanasi meant getting electoral benefits from both Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. This is the reason why Varanasi was chosen for Mr Modi.
It is said that the BJP tried to cash on Mr Modi’s OBC status.
No, this is absolutely incorrect. This issue came up only when Priyanka Gandhi Vadra made the “neech rajneeti” remark. Until then we had not raised this issue. We don’t want to pursue caste-based politics. This issue came up during the last phase of polling when only 42 constituencies remained to go to polls.
In Uttar Pradesh, the BJP does not have a face to lead the party.
No, I don’t believe that the BJP has no leadership in Uttar Pradesh. Wherever there is a BJP government, like Chhattisgarh, Goa, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, our political leadership is represented by the chief minister, which helps the party during elections.
In Uttar Pradesh we didn’t have a government for many years so this kind of leadership could not benefit us. But we have many stalwarts and effective leaders in Uttar Pradesh who have immense popularity.
Will Mr Modi retain the Varanasi seat?
I don’t know anything about this. This issue will be decided by the party.
There is speculation that you might be inducted into the government.
Right now I am the party’s general secretary and Uttar Pradesh’s incharge. Uttar Pradesh is my responsibility and it is my job to take political responsibility of this state.
With Mr Modi coming to Delhi, do you think the next chief minister in Gujarat will be as effective as him.
In Gujarat, our party is very strong and so is our organisation. Gujarat has an effective administration. There are many effective leaders in Gujarat and Modiji is not leaving the country. Gujarat will keep getting his guidance from time to time.
You say caste barriers have been broken but your party did not get sizeable minority votes.
For many years there was a well calculated false campaign going on against the party. But I firmly believe that our government’s performance and its work will help in breaking this barrier.
Is your next target the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls?
Our preparations for the Lok Sabha elections was also to prepare the ground for Assembly polls. We have finished most of the work for the Assembly polls. When a party gets a mandate, it helps in enthusing party workers which will definitely benefit us in the Assembly elections.
The BJP was accused of polarisation in Uttar Pradesh? Also, questions were raised when a photograph of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya was in the background in Mr Modi’s rally in Faizabad?
It is a non-issue. The Congress candidate had Kashi Viswanath temple on his banners. What do you have to say about that? We are not against it, neither did we lodge a complaint like the Congress.
How can the photograph of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya be termed communal. There will be Qutub Minar if you come to Delhi, it will be Taj Mahal in Agra, how can it be called communal. It was not a planned strategy.